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Last Updated on October 31, 2019

Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

The demands on our time are greater now than ever before. With information coming at us faster than we can digest it, responsibilities handed to us faster than we can handle them and communication moving at breakneck speed, finding ways to fit as much as possible into your day is a daunting task to say the least. But there is a way to get more done of what you want and need with less distraction, and it’s a strategy that you likely employ for some things already.

You have to schedule stuff. Not just the appointment-specific stuff, but all of the stuff that matters. You can do that by scheduling time blocks.

The one great equalizer that all of humanity has is time. No one has twenty-five hours in their day; we all have twenty-four. How we choose to use those hours is what separates us. By scheduling the stuff that matters (from the urgent to the crucial), you’ll be spending those hours far more wisely. In addition, you’ll be living your days proactively rather than reactively.

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As a writer, I have always made time for writing – specific time, in fact. I have blocked out entire days to do most of what I write and on other days I’ve set aside an hour or tow of uninterrupted time to do the same. But I have found that setting aside blocks of time for writing isn’t enough. I need to set aside time for specific types of writing. There’s blocks of time for my work here at Lifehack, there’s blocks of time for my fiction writing, there’s blocks of time for my personal writing and there’s blocks of time for when I am working on my book project. That’s what I have to do to ensure that I get all of my writing done during the week, and it keeps me focused on the area I’m supposed to be writing on rather than the very broad category of simply “writing” that I’ve used in the past. Narrowing the category down to the specifics has boosted my productivity by keeping me on track and allowing me to fulfill all of my writing needs.

Scheduling: It Isn’t Just For Work Anymore

Oh, and scheduling blocks of time doesn’t just have to involve work-related stuff. I was having coffee with a friend this week and he told me that he blocks out every week a set amount of time to have coffee with me. That’s brilliant. It creates a standing appointment for him that he knows is coming, and it’s something he enjoys doing and doesn’t want to let it slide. During our coffee visits we’re able to disconnect from our devices, have stimulating conversations that stay with us well past our time together and enjoy a quality cup of coffee as well. There weekly get-togethers are something I look forward to every week. Their value lies in the company I’m keeping and the time it gives me to recharge my batteries and replenish my creative juices. So I’m scheduling them as well. They are as crucial to me as my writing, so they can’t afford to be missed.

I have also started to block out time for reading, which is crucial to me as a writer who wants to get better at his craft. There’s an excellent post by Randy Murray on why scheduling reading time can be really beneficial.

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Other areas I’ve started to block out times of my day for include:

Homework time with my daughter/Bedtime preparation with my son. My wife and I trade off on this, where she’ll help her out and I’ll get my son off to bed. Either way, that time is sacred and can’t be moved around. Children need to know that their parents are there to help nurture their minds and spirit and they need to learn routines. This time with them offers both.

Date night with my wife. Even if it’s at home watching a movie or reading together quietly, it’s something that promotes a healthy relationship. While it can be moved around, it is something that we’re trying to lock down. It’s a work in progress – much like a marriage.

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Sporting events on television. I do my best to watch every Cincinnati Bengals football game that I can — as painful as that can be. It’s a Sunday ritual that I truly enjoy, so much so that my family knows that when I put on my jersey that it’s time for the game. It’s easier to stick to these days because I’m able to watch most games in the morning on the west coast, and it’s also easier to stick to since I’m a Bengals fan and they rarely play more than 16 times per year.

How to Lock Down Time Blocks

1. Blocked times should scream out at you when you look at your day planner, online calendar or task management solution. Create an online calendar with a title that does this, use a vibrant colour (perhaps your favourite one) and put all of the stuff that you’re blocking out time for in that calendar. If you use paper, use a different colour pen or write in capital letters to make it stand out among your other items. In a task manager, label or flag it somehow with tags or a similar method that highlights it for you. In order for things to not be missed (especially when you first start doing them), you need to make sure that your eyes don’t miss them.

2. Share these times with those who need to know. My wife subscribes to my Google Calendar so that she can see when I’m absolutely indisposed. She knows when I’m busy in an area that’s been blocked out and doesn’t even try to reach me during those times – or try to shift me away from them in any form. Same with other colleagues that I am working with. Whatever pertains to them, I make sure I let them know. If you don’t use an online calendar, simply draft up a standard email that tells people when you’re either available or when you’re not available. I like to use the former because it’s always better to show them when you can be reached rather than when you can’t.

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3. Stick to the blocked times for 30 instances. In order to make this a habit, you need time to let it stick. Repeat the blocked time for 30 instances if you use a digital calendaring solution and make sure you jot them down the same amount of times if you’re using a good old-fashioned paper system. Not only will the blocked times become part of the flow of your week, but you’ll actually discover how crucial these items your blocking out time for are. You’ll also be able to figure out how much time you really need, whether or not that time or day works for you and much more. Consider this an experiment…and you’re the guinea pig.

I don’t use my task management solution to schedule things; that’s what calendar apps are for. I always look at my calendar when I start my day to see what blocks of time are already mapped out for me. That proactive approach keeps me on task – and on target to get all of the stuff that matters to me done each and every day.

Block out time for that stuff and you’ll block out all the distractions that can keep you from getting that stuff done. It’s time well spent – both now and in the future.

Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews Content Production via unsplash.com

More by this author

Mike Vardy

A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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Published on February 17, 2020

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals in a Distracting World

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals in a Distracting World

In this digital era, distractions can seem impossible to avoid. Just figuring out how to stay focused on your goals and ambitions can feel as difficult as actually achieving them.

These days, constant distractions can lead to a massive loss in productivity.

Statistics show that employees, on average, waste 28% of their time dealing with and trying to recover from unnecessary interruptions.[1]

And that’s at work, where you’re paid to be productive, and where some of us are monitored too much or too closely for comfort.

So, one can only imagine how much time is lost or wasted when we are left to our own devices.

A World of Distractions

Speaking of devices, how many times have you grabbed your cell phone at the very moment you hear a notification, wasting precious time scrolling through social media when you should be using that time working on your goals?

I can bet a lot.

But we’ve all been there.

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions and efforts to stay on task, we still find ourselves being chronically distracted.

Chances are you’ll be interrupted before you can even finish reading this article.

The reality is as undeniable as it is unavoidable: we live in a world full of distractions!

But how can you take back control of your time and attention to avoid these distractions and learn how to stay focused on your goals?

There are several strategies for overcoming distractions and reclaiming your focus, such as avoiding social media, prioritizing emails, meditation and more.

You can read about them in detail in our article, How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide).

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Some of these methods have been discussed ad nauseam. But one method in particular hasn’t been talked about enough.

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals

Your Environment Is a Major Factor

Whether we want to admit it or not, all of us are mostly a product of our environment. Our environment impacts us far more than we realize.

It’s made of a multitude of things, from the space we live and work in, to the people we spend the most time with, to the things we read, listen to, and watch, to even our profiles on social media, and more.

All of these elements of our surroundings influence our focus, thoughts, mindset, belief systems, and the goals and standards we set for ourselves. They all serve as triggers for certain behaviors, tendencies, and moods. That’s how many of our habits are formed.

We’ll always take on aspects of the environments we continually place ourselves in.

Willpower and Motivation Is a Broken Approach

What a lot of people have gotten wrong about trying to achieve their goals is that they often focus only on what needs to be done and how to get it done – outcomes and willpower.

Many think that willpower and motivation in their own right determine success.

While both are great and necessary virtues to have to navigate this increasingly difficult world, willpower is largely a short-term solution, while motivation is great to get you started but is also fleeting.

This is one of the main reasons why so many people’s New Year’s resolutions go belly-up by the end of January.

Your willpower is like a muscle, which means it’s finite and will deplete with use. [2]

Using the willpower approach to stay focused on goals centers on increasing personal efforts to overcome the environment, not on modifying or changing the environment.

The harsh reality is that your environment is more powerful than your internal resolve. No matter how much discipline you have, eventually, you’ll succumb to your environment despite your greatest efforts.

Setting Yourself up for Success

In an environment that’s incompatible with your goals, its negative influence will sabotage your success.

On the other hand, a compatible environment is one of the most important strategies you can utilize to stay focused on achieving your goals.

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Creating an environment that is conducive to success will trigger your desired behaviors and, most importantly, will decrease distractions.

Inevitability Thinking

In fact, productivity expert Eben Pagan believes that designing the right environment will create conditions that make it impossible for you not to achieve your goals.

The multi-millionaire, entrepreneur, and investor regards this as the next evolution of goal-setting that will move us away from focusing on willpower and outcomes.

He calls this concept “Inevitability Thinking,” which is thinking and acting as if what you are doing is a foregone conclusion because you set up the conditions for it to happen.

What he means by “setting up the conditions for success” is designing an environment that’s conducive to you achieving your goals.

Building Your Environment

World-renowned leadership coach and author Dr. Marshall Goldsmith believes if a person doesn’t create and control their environment, then it will create and control them.

He suggests having a vision of achieving the goals you want to accomplish. Then, think about designing the structure of your environment, your situation, or your organization in a way that would organically bring that vision to life.

“If [you] can design your life [and] behaviors well, [you] don’t need to rely on willpower.” – BJ Fogg, Social Science Research Associate, Stanford [3]

“But I’m not a designer,” you might be thinking.

Don’t get intimidated, it can be done – by you or anyone! Designing or modifying your environment so you can better stay focused on your goals is not like designing spaceships – it’s not rocket science.

Here is how to make it happen.

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals: Designing Your Environment

1. Find the Environment That Supports Achieving Your Goals

Real progress occurs when we fully understand and align with what, whom, and where best support our goals.

So, the next time you’re in your environment, whether at or outside of work, try to pay attention to how you feel while you’re there. Note if that feeling changes when you leave that environment.

Examine your surroundings. Look at all the infrastructure and ask yourself these simple questions:

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  • Am I in an environment that’s conducive to me achieving my goals?
  • Is it detrimental to me maintaining my focus on my goals?
  • Is it on par with people who have already achieved what I want to achieve?

Also, examine your lifestyle and habits. Are you placing yourself in environments and situations that spark personal growth?

If the answers to these questions are anything but a definite and resounding yes, then you should seriously consider modifying or completely changing your surroundings.

The more you understand yourself, the more aware you’ll be of the environment that’s most likely to help you stay focused on your goals.

2. Let Your Goals, Not Distractions, Distract You

If you constantly lose focus on your goals, you pretty much render them useless. Distractions and interruptions are the biggest culprits of losing your focus.

One of the most practical ways to maintain focus is to allow your goals to constantly distract you.

You’ll inevitably lose focus from time to time. But you can limit the number of times it happens and the duration by facilitating your goals to distract you back to your focus.

Now, how do you do that?

It’s simple: make visual cues.

There’s a saying that if you don’t see it, you’ll probably forget it. Science agrees; the eyes hold the majority of sensory receptors in the human body. Therefore, the eye is a major component of focus.

The following cues are simply things that will trigger you to focus or refocus your attention back onto your goals.

What type to use will largely depend on what works for you, but below are a few common ones:

  • Tape your task list or habit tracker to your desk or onto your refrigerator at home.
  • Hang motivational posters at frequently visited sections of your house or workspace.
  • Post-Its – write your goals in a one or two-word phrase on them and stick where you’re sure to see them.
  • Set cues to constantly remind you to stick with your productive habits.
  • Digital devices – alter the screensavers of your computer, smartphones, tablets, or any other digital device you use regularly to display something about your goal.

Read more about how to stay focused on your goals: How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals

3. Modify Your Inner Circle

Multiple studies have proven that our mindset, behaviors, and motivations are largely influenced by our peer group. Therefore, the people in our lives have an enormous impact on our ability to reach our goals.

“You are the average of the five people you associate with most…” – Tim Ferriss [4]

Since people have such a significant influence on the direction of your entire life, if you’re really serious about achieving your goals, you may have to adjust your inner circle. This is where designing or modifying your environment for success becomes tricky.

Unlike upgrading your iPhone, changing the makeup of your inner circle can be a lot more complex.

One of the most difficult things to do in life is to sever ties with friends, especially against their will, even if it’s for the betterment of the self.

It will likely foster resentment because it will require you to betray the very virtue that served as the keystone of the friendship in the first place: loyalty.

But we must remember that above all else, when we set important personal goals, we must be loyal to ourselves if we are to achieve them. Loyalty to friends, family, or even to your spouse that is detrimental to your success in life will only slow your growth.

By consciously deciding whom you want in your inner circle, you are taking control of the ultimate direction of your life.

4. Change Your Environment Completely

This method is the most extreme, but it can also be the most effective.

While modifying your environment for it to become less distracting is ideal, sometimes it’s just not enough. Certain elements in your environment, such as your social circle, are harder than others to modify. In fact, some elements that are nearly impossible to adjust.

There are times when these elements are so out of your control that the only thing you can do to stay focused on your goals is to make more radical and thorough changes. This can mean changing your environment completely.

Here are some examples of changes you could try to make (only if necessary):

  1. Change your physical possessions (ex.: get rid of your TV)
  2. Create a new virtual set-up (online)
  3. Change your physical workspace (work, home, co-working, cafes, etc.)
  4. Join a new social group
  5. Change locations (home, co-working space, café, etc.)
  6. Change jobs or switch branches
  7. Drop distracting friends or family from your inner circle.
  8. Change your spouse
  9. Move to a different country

Of course, these are some extreme steps to take. So, only resort to these if you have tried everything else to stay focused on your goals but are still unsuccessful.

Conclusion

If you’re struggling to figure out how to stay focused on your goals, it’s a lot harder to make a significant, lasting change without altering some elements of your environment.

By taking control of the set-up of your environment, you can influence your levels of motivation, enthusiasm, drive, and desire towards the goals you have set.

Optimizing your environment creates powerful conscious and subconscious motivators that make staying focused on your goals easier. And for many of us, easier is always better.

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More Tips on Goal Setting

Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Information Overload Research Group: The Cost of Not Paying Attention – How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity
[2] American Psychological Association Study: Willpower, choice, and self-control
[3] BJ Fogg on Twitter: @bjfogg
[4] GoodReads: Timothy Ferriss: Quotable Quotes

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